West Ham United Under-18s were edged out 1-0 at Everton in their latest pre-season fixture on Saturday.
Nick Haycock's squad were up early for the journey to Merseyside, but shrugged off any travel weariness to produce a determined and decent display against the Toffees, only to lose out to a late goal.
With many scholars involved in the Development Squad fixture at Welling United, Haycock took a 22-strong squad that contained only three second-year scholars and no fewer than 19 first-year scholars, schoolboys and trialists. With those circumstances in mind, the Under-18s coach was proud of his players' performance at Everton's Finch Farm training ground.
"We lost 1-0 in what was a very tight game of football with very few chances," said Haycock, who picked out Elliot Lee, Josh Cullen and Kieran Bywater for special praise, while also lauding the performance of Under-15 schoolboy Marty Carter. "It was a great workout in terms of fitness and defensive shape. Elliot was the standout performer, while Josh and Kieran played well and Marty looked at home at this level.
"We took a young squad with only three Under-18 players and a mixture of first years and Under-16 and Under-15 players! Certain boys needed a certain amount of minutes and came through with no injuries. We made eleven changes with 60 minutes gone to ensure all 22 players had a game, which is when we conceded.
"We have worked hard for three weeks on the shape and fitness of the team and during the next three weeks we will be stepping up the preparation. The boys will be working on their speed and ability to open up teams up with their attacking play."
After three domestic pre-season matches, Haycock takes his team to the continent on Thursday for what promises to be a competitive tournament.
"We go to Belgium on Thursday to play in the Eurofoot Under-19 Tournament, which is a 12-team competition where we are split into two groups of six. We play Cercle Brugge, FC Nordsjaeland AA Gent , SC Anderlecht and Hadjuk Split.
"The games are played in two 25-minute halves with a squad of 18 players. All the boys will be rotated again, ensuring all get the minutes they need. If we qualify in the top two we play in a semi-final against first or second in the other group. We aim to try and win the tournament but, more importantly, we are to establish our patterns of play and enjoy giving the boys experience of travelling away from home, playing against foreign opposition using different styles and systems and getting away from the training ground to break the pre-season up!
"On our return we have a team-building day with the Royal Marines to demonstrate to the boys what an elite environment is, followed by an away game at Manchester City on Saturday 11 August."